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Dealing with an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a family disease. It can be progressive and chronic and does not just affect the drinker. Family and friends of the alcoholic are also dramatically impacted.

When Someone You Love Has a Drinking Problem

The first thing a family member needs to recognize is that they cannot control the alcoholic.

Denial plays an initial role because no one wants to believe that his or her loved one has a drinking problem. Some people have the mind set that if they do not talk about it or acknowledge the problem, it will just go away. This will not happen.

Guilt and anger play a large role and cause friends and/or family members to believe that they should have done differently to prevent the problem from developing.

Dealing With Alcohol Addiction

Learning how to deal with an alcoholic, through an appropriate and often intricate support system, will help improve the alcoholic’s success of recovery.

Important points in dealing with an alcoholic include:

  • Do not take any blame yourself or allow the alcoholic to pass the blame.
  • Do not take responsibility for broken promises made by the drinker.
  • Do not try to control the alcoholic.
  • Do not think you can cure the drinker.
  • Do not cover up for their actions or mistakes.

The Plan of Action

There is a great deal of language that goes along with the alcoholism recovery process. Understanding the terms will help family members understand the process.

Enabling happens when a loved one tries to help the alcoholic. An enabler does things for the alcoholic that they could and should be doing themselves. While being well meaning, they actually support the alcoholic’s behavior. Enabling allows the alcoholic to comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior and drinking.

To stop enabling:

  • Do not make excuses for the drinker.
  • Do not take over their responsibilities.
  • Do not cover up their actions.
  • Do not supply them with alcohol.
  • Do not drink with them.
  • Do not argue when they are drunk.
  • Do not get entangled in their life drama.

Tough love is when a loved one supports the person, not the addiction. It involves treating the alcoholic sternly with the intention of helping them in the long-term.

Relapse into the addiction is common. The family member has no control over that happening and needs to understand that concept.

Al-Anon and/or Alateen are a support system for family members and friends. Regularly scheduled meetings, telephone and Internet communication provide support from peers.

Teens/children are often fearful of the consequences of talking about their parent’s drinking or alcoholism. They can sometimes think that their own behavior caused the parent to abuse alcohol. Alateen offers support to children of alcoholics.

Support is also encouraged through meeting with a social worker, therapist and/or trusted friends or clergy. Counseling therapy helps to identify feelings, personal behaviors and other needs that influence how a person deals with the alcoholic.

It is important to note that family members need support on their own journey of recovery, regardless what the alcoholic does or how they choose to live their life. This is a key point of recovery for loved ones affected by an alcoholic.


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